A Celebration of the Visual Arts: Art Month Sydney

On a cool overcast March morning, I navigated the streets of the heavily residential Elizabeth Bay neighborhood to find Michael Reid’s gallery and talk to the owner about his role as co-creator (with Vasili Kaliman of Kaliman Gallery) of Art Month Sydney. The initiative, now in its first year, celebrates the visual arts in Sydney over the whole month of March, bringing together over 70 galleries, ARIs (Artist-Run Initiatives) and other organizations to host over 140 events. It is a feast, it is a celebration, it is an incredible force of art.

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The logo of Art Month Sydney 2010.

“It is really a simple idea,” Reid commented at the beginning of our meeting. The idea began with the realization that many talented, creative, and often hidden small galleries do not have the PR resources of big museums or auction houses. Why not bring them all together to speak with a strong, unified voice? Started in January 2009, the initiative grew into a veritable mega-event that aimed to share the great diversity of the Sydney art world and make it accessible to all. Michael commented, comparing Art Month to the Arts and Crafts Movement, “Beauty and design and art are everywhere. It is not a rarefied experience.”

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The work of Gemma Smith installed at Sarah Cottier Gallery. Image courtesy of Art Month Sydney.

And the art is definitely everywhere. Just two months ago when I arrived, I lamented the lack of a centralized resource for art events. Art Month has exceeded my expectations and is definitely that cohesive force I was seeking, complete with an easily navigable website, a very active Twitter feed and a blog that keeps discussion lively about Sydney’s art. So far, in its second week, Art Month can already be pronounced a roaring success: the launch party attracted over 500 people, talks about collecting contemporary art and the crossover between art and other fields have been overwhelmingly attended and the weekly Thursday night Art Bar has attracted a younger crowd eager to share a drink and art-inspired conversation.

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Stills Gallery’s co-director Bronwyn Rennex and gallery manager Kate Sheaffe discussing photography. Image courtesy of Art Month Sydney Blog.

Every weekend, Art Month also provides transportation between galleries in different areas of town (a journey called Follow Your Art). Last weekend’s focus on Paddington and Woollahra caused some galleries to enjoy their highest ever attendance on the weekend. On top of everything already mentioned, galleries are hosting talks from artists and curators and the magazine Art & Australia has created a booklet for children (distributed in primary schools across Sydney) to make the experience fun for the whole family. Art Month is succeeding in reaching kids (& their parents), young adults, aspiring collectors, and is also bringing together artists, galleries, dealers, collectors, auction houses and museums. Not only is Art Month spreading the gospel of the accessibility and fun of art, it is also fostering community and relationships within the art world itself.

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Gallerist Tim Olsen talking about the work of John Olsen at Tim Olsen Gallery. Image courtesy of Art Month Sydney Blog.

With over two weeks to go, there is still plenty to be seen and experienced: the colourful work of Gemma Smith at Sarah Cottier Gallery, the fluorescent light environments of aboriginal artist Jonathan Jones at Gallery Barry Keldoulis, an artist talk with Imants Tillers at Roslyn Oxley9, a curator talk about Joseph Kosuth at Anna Schwartz, a discussion about collecting Asian Art at White Rabbit Gallery, and so much more (just check out their website to see the palette of exhibits and events on hand).

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Jonathan Jones, Under the aegis, 2006. Fluorescent tubes and fittings. Image courtesy of Art Month Sydney.

While I know Art Month is far from over, I couldn’t help but ask Michael about the future of Art Month. Having developed the necessary infrastructure for the event, there is talk of bringing Art Month to different Australian cities. The website, Twitter feed and blog will continue to be a strong unifying voice in the arts community of Sydney. And there is also talk about further exploring the Creative Collaborations events (talks about the intersection of art and design, architecture, fashion, and food respectively) as well as creating Art Pop Ups (less permanent art galleries that could bring art to different parts of town in a sort of prolonged happening). Whatever the future holds, I think that Michael and Vasili along with the Art Month team have created a wonderful model that can (and should) be adopted beyond Australia. Art Month is catalyzing fresh passion for art, taking away the art world’s air of elitism and inapproachability and, instead, making art fun, accessible and a welcome part of the collective imagination.